Thursday, April 17, 2008

Edward Lorenz and my career path

Edward Lorenz, father of what is popularly known as Chaos Theory passed away at the age of 90 today.  Many of us might have heard a statement which goes something like, "if a butterfly flaps its wings in Brazil will there be a tornado in Texas?".  Well, he was the guy who had originally conjectured that such a thing is possible. 

I have a special association with Lorenz's writing as my original inspiration to pursue a PhD came from reading a book titled "Complexity", which first introduced me to many concepts that are part of Chaos Theory.  I had read this book when I was an MBA student at the Indian Institute of Management from 1999-2001.  I was so inspired by the book and the apparent ramifications on business practice that I did a group term paper for the Strategic Management course on the "red queen effect", another fall out of the complexity theory. Red queen effect refers to the red queen's race in Lewis Carroll's "through the looking glass".  The character red Queen in this book tells Alice that, "It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place". The effects stresses the nature of change and how firms need to be innovating constantly to sustain their competitive advantage.

Eventually, I was so smitten by the principle that I followed up on the theory of Complexity and found that the University of Michigan offered a certificate course on Complex Systems.  I wrote to students in the program and found out that you had to be enrolled as a student in one the graduate programs at the university to be able to take this course.  Thus started my quest for information and eventually I decided to pursue a doctoral degree in business. 

My admiration of chaos and complexity did not end with my admission to the marketing phd program at Penn State.  I further did a first year term paper (in Dr. Martin Kilduff's Organizational Theory course) on Complex Systems by reviewing the literature in management journals that employed complexity theory to business problems.  I stopped pursuing the idea after I found more interesting things - open source software development.  However, I still read many related articles as I use a Social Network approach to understanding developer networks.

Serendipity eh ?... or is it the essence of "Chaos Theory" ?

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